Video: Burying the dead in Lebanon

By Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/18/2006 7:42:46 PM ET 2006-08-18T23:42:46

This was the day to finally bury the dead.

With farm tools and their hands, volunteers exhumed 136 bodies from a shallow mass grave in Tyre. After nearly a month in 100-degree heat, the stench was nauseating.

But six miles away, the dead from Qana received special attention — a procession with portraits of the victims, their graves sprinkled with rosewater — all carefully orchestrated by Hezbollah for the 29 killed by an Israeli airstrike here three weeks ago, half of them children.

It is a tragedy that Hezbollah and its media-savvy leader Hassan Nasrallah have not hesitated to exploit. Out of the destruction, Hezbollah is building its popularity. Fighters have now become aid workers, strengthening their hold on south Lebanon.

While international aid groups on Friday trickled in with food and water, Hezbollah handed out cash from Iran — $12,000 in bundles of $100 bills to families who lost their homes.

Nasrallah has pledged to hand out close to $160 million. Described as smart, pragmatic and determined, Nasrallah appears to have gained the most from the war.

"The Americans and the Israelis had meant to diminish Hezbollah," says Jamil Mroueh, Daily Star editor. "The result is that they created a huge, huge tsunami of political force in favor of Hezbollah."

In the village of Dir Antar near the Israeli border, talk of disarming Hezbollah is out of the question.

"Now, who is going to come and disarm Hezbollah?" asks Ali Abou Raya. "Nobody can do it."

After prayers here, Ali Yassin signed up for aid from Hezbollah.

"Only Nasrallah can protect and care for us," he said, adding that Nasrallah's hearts-and-minds campaign appears to be working.

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